An awkward relationship

I have to be honest: I'm in a running funk.  I thought it was a short term thing during the cold winter months.  But here we are in the throes of summer and I just don't feel like the runner I used to be.  I'm not excited about this Summer Of Speed because I can't find races.  I haven't read a blog post or running related article in about a month (never mind the last time I actually left a comment on someone's blog).  Even writing this entry is like pulling teeth.

I suspect the crappy winter/spring training has a lot to do with it.  It just messed me up psychologically--especially since I ran my best Marathon time at the end of probably my worst training cycle.  I'm still having nightmarish thoughts from the winter when I'd go out there in 15 degree weather before dawn and crank out six miles afraid that my eyes would freeze closed.

And then with the new job I find that I hardly ever have time to write an entry or keep up with other bloggers, which gets me out of touch with the running community.  I really have no idea what anyone on my blogroll is doing (sorry guys!!).  Heck, I barely have time to look up races to run.

I'm thinking I just have to get through this summer and start training for a Marathon to get me focused again on what I love to do.  And I'm hoping that as my main project at work winds down in September, I'll be able to get into a better groove with my life.


Legs of steel

Over the past month since the Delaware Marathon and in getting off on the SOS I've noticed two things going on with my legs.

First are the Marathon Cuts.  I noticed my first Marathon Cut just after the NYCM.  I was standing up from a squatting position (read: I was in the bathroom) and noticed that I had developed enough muscle definition in my quads to see a "cut" about two-three inches long.  As a recovering fat kid, having a cut of any kind is super cool--I must have spent a five minutes checking it out...in the bathroom stall.  Then after the Delaware Marathon I found that the Marathon Cut I got from the NYCM had elongated into a full-length cut from the outside of my hip to about five inches above my knee where the muscle ends.  This is totally awesome!  It's like discovering a new part of my legs!

Another side effect of training is the size of my calves.  It's not exactly a problem, until I put on pants--which is everyday.  In particular, navigating jeans over my calves has become pretty hard to do without tearing out some leg hairs along the way.  I guess I now have a high calf-to-waist ratio (bigger calves, smaller waist) meaning that I might have to start buying those carpenter jeans that were popular when I was 12.


SOS kicks off with a fizzle

Hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it? I realize now that I probably shouldn't have picked the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge as the kick off to my Summer Of Speed. For starters the race is an irregular distance: 3.5 miles. A few less tenths of a mile and it would have been a 5K (one would wonder why it they didn't do that). Then, there were the 14,000 runners. For such a short race that is a friggin nightmare. But none the less, I counted it as the official kick-off to my SOS (borrowed generously from Nitmos).

The event is a corporate charity run (and walk as I found out) benefiting the Central Park Conservancy. My office organized a team and paid for the entry fees, so when I saw the email I was one of the first to sign up. The race was also exactly one month after the Delaware Marathon, so I figured I had plenty of time to switch out my Marathon legs for 5K legs.

Lesson #1 from the JPMCCC: I have never had 5K legs. By training and by racing I am a long distance runner. For six years I have only run Half-Marathons and Marathons (except for one 5K and one 10K). So training for this race was exceptionally awkward. The biggest problem was that I would wake up to go running and then I would think "it's only a three mile run, it won't hurt if I miss it" and then went back to sleep. And then when I did run my legs were super sore. I'm not used to being sore after every single run--at least that hasn't happened in a very long time. Hopefully this means this SOS will break out some long dormant muscles.

On race day (Wednesday) me and a couple of coworkers gathered up to head uptown together. We were all dressed up in running shorts and the team t-shirt when the head of our East Coast operations (my boss's boss's boss) passes by and starts chatting us up. Since I'm the "professional" runner he singles me out and says that if I don't finish in the top five I can consider myself fired. Actually, he grabs a sharpie from a desk and writes that ultimatum on my t-shirt. Great. No pressure.

Since we're running late when we get off the train at Columbus Circle me and my coworkers decided to "warm up" with a run from Columbus Circle to Tavern on the Green.

Lesson #2 from the JPMCC: running with a backpack is difficult. Worse than running at a sprint is running at a sprint with a back pack full of work clothes. It actually wore me out pretty bad--and that was before I got to the bag drop off for my company.

We put our bags down and stretched before walking over to the massive mess that was the starting line. I didn't realize how far back we were because the starting chute wrapped around a curve. But once the crowd started moving I saw that we were waaaay far back in the non-competitive section (excuse me: non-competitive? That's a joke, right?). After we passed the non-competitive banner then came the markers for 12 minute pace, 11 minute pace, 10 minute pace, and so on. We were essentially with the walkers and knew that we would be weaving through the crowd the entire way.

Lesson #3 from the JPMCC: weaving through a entire race is like cross training in the middle of a tempo run. Weaving through the crowd the entire race felt like I was alternating between a tempo run and calisthenics. There was no way to get to my goal race pace of 7:15 and I was constantly shuffling, hopping, skipping, passing, and dodging. It was an entirely different workout than I'm used when I run.

I immediately lost my coworkers in the crowd. I was so focused on making my way through the crowd that I didn't see the first mile marker. For someone used to running long distances where there are usually sections of the race when you're all alone, this literally was a nightmare.

Lesson #4 from the JPMCC: team t-shirts should be recognizable from a distance. I work in an ad agency, and while it's not the type of ad agency that produces advertisements we nonetheless have professional designers on staff to make presentations and such look good. Apparently, no one in my office thought of tapping one of those designers for a t-shirt. Our team t-shirts were plain white t-shirts with the company logo on the front and some uninspired words on the back. Finding one of my coworkers was impossible in that crowd.

Even though our t-shirts were hard to find, I did eventually find a coworker in the distance near mile 1.5. I tried to lock-in on him but I couldn't close in because of the crowd and the weaving that had tired me out prematurely. But at least I had that goal to pass him (remember, I had to finish in the top five if I wanted to keep my job) and that kept me going through the race.

On the final downhill (cat hill) I made up a significant amount of space between me and my other coworker and finally passed him just after the boathouse. Then was the unforgiving 90 degree turn just before the finish line and the even less forgiving uphill to the finish line.

Lesson #5 from the JPMCC: that was the worst finishing chute experience ever. One of my co-workers pointed out that between my finish and his finish about 800 people crossed the finish line.  Want to guess the amount of time that passed between our finishes?  Thirty seconds.  With that many people crushing at the finish line it was like running into a wall at the end.  Actually, I did run into two people who slowed do faster than me.

I finished the race in 28:11, a pace of 8:03.  However, according to Fenny I managed to run an extra .1 miles, bringing my adjusted pace to 7:53.  While this was about 45 seconds slower than I intended on finishing, it sets an incredibly low bar for the SOS.  I can only go up from here.  Hooray for optimism!


Running in circles, Part III

Mile 14: 7:36
Mile 15: 8:31
Mile 16: 8:13
Mile 17: 8:22
Mile 18: 8:16
Mile 19: 8:32
Mile 20: 8:34
Mile 21: 8:50
Mile 22: 8:40
Mile 23: 8:47
Mile 24: 8:39
Mile 25: 8:39
Mile 26: 8:38
Mile 26.2: 1:26


The first loop of the second lap was an out and back along the waterfront—a bit different from the first pass at this loop when the course snaked around office parks and shopping centers.  This route was narrower, but more scenic.  Taking a look at my time I knew I was doing well but didn’t want to let that go to my head and sudden burn out.  I always feel weakest at those high-teen miles (17-19), and if I’m burnt out by then I know it will be a bad race (see The Pig).

However, at the turn around on this loop I could see that the blonde girl, who I thought I had finally shaken, was just a couple meters behind me.  I knew I couldn’t take it easy on this loop if I was going to stay ahead.
As I got back to the nexus of the course I saw Wifey again with camera in hand.  I learned later that she had been standing in the same exact place during the first lap, but I totally missed her.  I maneuvered my way through the narrow course and sharp turn through the relay exchange, hoping to not bump into a barricade (this area was extremely tight!).

Entering the second (and final!) loop of the second lap I started to pay some serious attention to my stomach.  Essentially since Mile Three it was telling me it had to go to the bathroom.  At first I thought it was just a one off wave, but it kept coming back every 15-20 minutes.  For about 12 miles I was trying to decide between taking a preemptive bathroom visit now, take the time hit, and then proceed knowing it was over, or press chance and plow thorough the last 11 miles and run the risk of a major issue down the line.  My head was saying to press on, but knowing that there was another pass at that big hill coming up I knew I had to listen to my body more.

At the same time I could feel the eyes of the blonde girl burning into the back of my head.  I would hear her get close and then I would pull away.  And then she’d get close again, and I’d pull away again.  And while that was fine for the flat part of the race, the hills were going to start and I was already pressing my pace into the 8:13 area.  I didn’t need someone forcing me to go too fast when I was holding down stomach issues.

Finally, around Mile 16 I gave up and decided that I wasn’t going to pull away from the blonde girl this time.  If she takes me over on these hills, well, then she would just be the better runner.  My 20-something-year-old-who’s-out-to-prove-himself ego would just have to be shelved for now.  But then something weird happened.  She parked herself on my right and did not pass me.  Through downtown we ran step in step.  We never got further in front of each other than a foot or two.

After about 20 minutes of this, I turned to her and said “hi.”  She turned to me and in a too loud voice said hi back and said that I’m really good at pacing myself and that she had been behind me the whole race (Ha!  As if I didn’t know).   She asked if we were going to make it under four hours and I told her at the pace we’re going we’ll make it under 3:50.  I didn’t even get to tell her that I was trying to make 3:40 because she quickly said that she was listening to really loud music and “let’s just run.”  While I appreciate the purist approach to running, I wasn’t exactly looking for someone to share my life story with.  I was just opening up the dialogue between us new-found running partners.  So I left it at that.

By this point we were crossing the Swinging Bridge again, where I had noticed her the first time.  I knew that there was now less than a mile before the big climb and that I should really find a port-o-potty, especially since my stomach was flaring up again.  I knew there was a port-o-potty halfway up the hill, but I would have to cross oncoming runners to get to it and would have a blind approach (and therefore I wouldn't be able to tell if there was a line).

But magically an empty port-o-potty appeared half-way along the course to the climb.  There was no line and the color on the handle was green—it was empty!  Knowing that the blonde girl was listening to loud music and that my decision to stop was made in about .68 seconds I gave her no warning.  I saw her head flick back around when I peeled off and headed into the bathroom.

Ninety seconds later I was back the course—perhaps the quickest time that the Browns have ever made it to the Super Bowl.  On the approach to the switchback where the climb started I saw the blonde pass me and marked the time.  I saw that I was about 1.5 minutes behind her.  In my head the intention was to catch up to her, and 1.5 minutes shouldn’t be too hard to make up, but I knew that would be a big task with the mile of climbing in front of me. 

I slowed down ridiculously on that hill, but this late in the race if I didn't slow down I was never going to make it.  Even though it was the same exact hill I had passed just two hours earlier it felt like it had tripled in difficulty.  The last 200m I could feel the energy pouring out with every step, and the scary thing was that the energy was not being replaced by more energy, it was getting replaced by tiredness--it was the closest I came to stopping during the whole race.  I was never so happy to see a Mile Marker as when I saw 20 at the crest of that hill.

Then started the twisty-turny section of the loop with sixteen turns in three miles.  While I should have been happy that this part was flat I felt like I didn't have anything left.  I guess I'm used to running on bridges and rollers here in NYC, so every uphill is followed immediately by a downhill.  Climbing for 10 minutes and then just going flat is not something I'm used to doing.  This section was going to be hard and it didn't help that the sun had just come out at full strength, bringing the temperature up at least 10 degrees from the starting time.  I did everything I could to distract myself until the downhill stretch where I would have some relief.

After all sixteen turns I came on the long downhill through a shady park.  I hoped to regain my speediness on the downhill, but I simply couldn't.  I was zapped, the special sauce--the gravvy--was gone, the hill had sucked it all out.  I kept on trying to push myself faster but according to Fenny my body was not responding.  I saw the miles creep higher and higher--23, 24, 25--but nothing, I could get nothing additional out of my legs, confirmed by the approaching hill I had to now pass to get through downtown.

On that last hill I looked at Fenny.  My top goal of 3:40 was out of reach, but a PR was completely doable.  Barring any disaster in the last mile I could "easily" make a sub-3:50.  So I didn't give up looking for gravvy, even though I knew I had none left. 

That last mile there was a guy close to my age who was running the last mile in fits and spats (run for a minute or two and then walk, and so on).  I was keeping a steady pace so we passed each several times in the course of the mile.  At Mile Marker 26 I passed him while he was walking and I shouted "Come on buddy, you're not walking now!"  He picked up the speed and came up next to me and said that's what he needed to finish.  He told me his name, where he was from, that his PR was 4:00 (or around there?), and that he was trying to break it.  I little shocked that he was bounding with this much energy at the end of the Marathon and that he had no clue what his finish time was going to be.  I told him he was going to break that PR for sure and probably shave off more than ten minutes.  He sounded really happy about that and sped off around the corner to the finish line.

I tried to use my grappling hook on him, but that was busted too.  And thanks to the two left turns to get to the finish line he was out of my site in seconds.  So I poured it on as much as I could--and it was definitely all I had left because my calves cramped up during those strides to the end.  In a tip of my hat to my great run at the Breakers Marathon I hopped on the timing mat to make sure it read my chip.

Final Numbers:
Net Time: 3:47:01
Watch Time: 3:45:33 (no potty break)
Overall place: 133/555 (top 24% of finishers)
Men: 105/345 (top 30%)
M25-29: 13/28 (top 46%)

While I didn't feel like this was my best race while running it, numberwise it was one of my best runs, second only to the 5K I ran in 2008.  And now that I'm squarely in the top 25 percent of finishers I somewhat feel like I can say that I've moved on from the middle of the pack.  Hooray!


Running in circles, Part II

Sorry, life has gotten in the way of blogging yet again.  But here is Part II of the Delaware Marathon, with Part III to come shortly: scout's honor!

Mile 1: 9:04
Miles 2 and 3: 17:52 (8:56 pace)
Mile 4: 8:56
Mile 5: 8:31
Mile 6: 8:38
Mile 7: 9:05
Mile 8: 8:38
Mile 9: 8:25
Mile 10: 8:26
Miles 11 and 12: 16:50 (8:25 pace)
Mile 13: 9:13

I was trying to stick to a plan: run 8:30-8:40 for the first 10 miles, 8:20-8:30 for the next 10, and then whatever I've got for the last six--but still run the race I had trained for (i.e., not push myself too hard  too early).  When I saw the first split I wasn't ecstatic, but I was happy it wasn't in the 9:30 range that it normally is: the small race size negated the bob-and-weave that usually happens during the first couple miles.  The pack was so thin that by the time I hit the turnaround, just after Mile Marker 1, I could already see groups separating.  I knew I would have no complaints about over crowding here.

What I was having complaints about was Liam.  The playlist started off with the right song, but the next song sounded a bit out of order, and then the third song was most definitely wrong.  I checked the shuffle switch and it was in "off" position.  I restarted the playlist and no luck.  The songs were out of order.  As I found out at home that night, all the right songs were there, so I had dragged in the correct playlist, but somehow when I placed the playlist on Liam the order of songs got all jumbled up.  Weird.  So much for the curated playlist I was looking forward to.

Getting back to the staging area (just after Mile Marker 2) I heard the announcer on the PA system.  I assumed he was just rallying the crowd for the runners passing through.  But as I cleared the boardwalk I found all 1,000 Half-Marathoners lined up, hands on watches, ready to go--given the course design I was in a passing corral going onto the rest of the course, but facing the starting line head on less than 100 yards in front of me.  In a fraction of a second I pieced together what was happening and understood why the announcer was counting down "Five. Four. Three. Two. One."  BOOM.  The cannon fired again.  Totally taken by surprise I threw my arms up to cover my head and then slipped into the chute to keep going on the course.

The next mile or so of the course was an industrial warehouse area, but a nice flat section that I knew I would appreciate on the second loop. The next mile passed through downtown Wilmington on a soft incline and nice decline after that.

I didn't notice how easy I was taking it until I saw the Mile 4 split and realized that I needed to pick it up.  Just after Mile Marker 5 the course went over the Swinging Bridge.  The bridge didn't exactly swing as much as it bounced, providing a trampoline effect.  It was on this bridge that I passed by a svelte blonde girl about my age.  I noticed that we had passed each other a couple of times up to this point and, frankly, that was getting annoying. So I took the trampoline power to pass her.  I kept the lead on the other side of the river and through the next mile until I hit the hill.

The race director warned that there was one big, mile-long hill on the course, and that Marathoners would be running it twice.  I took the warning with all seriousness and slowed down to not waste too much on the first pass at this hill.  As promised it was a grueling climb, akin to the Queensboro Bridge.  The only forgiveness was that half way up the hill there was a bit of a flat stretch that let you catch your breathe before the rest of the climb.  During this hill the blonde girl passed me again, but this time I kept her in sight, thinking that when the course flattened out I would catch up.

At the top of the hill I saw the most horrible thing: Mile Marker 20.  First, it reminded me that there was a hell of a lot of running left to go.  Second, it indicated that the race director has a cruel sense of humor putting a mile-long climb leading up to Mile 20.  Third, it reminded me of Heartbreak Hill (also placed at Mile 20) and all the fateful stories associated with that hill.  I tried to stay optimistic, thinking that I've done late hills in my long runs, but something in the back of my head knew that the second pass at the hill would be rough.

The next three miles were very flat, but twisted an turned through a ritzy part of town and the Little Italy neighborhood.  There were a total of 16 turns in this three mile stretch--and while on the course map it doesn't look that bad, in person it made me disoriented and frustrated (as in: you couldn't find a longer straight course to avoid all of these turns?).

During the first of these turns the blonde girl who I had been keeping my eyes--purely for pacing reasons!...mostly--took off her fleece top and tossed into the grass.  She started shouting to a race volunteer to pick it up, I think in order for him to put it in the donation pile.  But with that distraction I was able to pass her and get a comfortable distance ahead, or so I thought.  A few minutes later I noticed her trying to pass me and knew I wasn't going to allow that this far into the race.  So I pressed forward a little bit harder and took advantage of a steep downhill to get a good distance ahead of her and lost her for good.  You can see in my splits for these miles I was going a bit faster than planned, but I was feeling great and increasingly confident in my running.

On the return part of this loop I got back the long uphill climb in the form of long downhill stretch that ended on the northern side of downtown, meaning there was only a mile left in the first lap of the race and the end of the race for the faster Half-Marathoners that had started to creep up around me.

I was taking it a bit easy because this pass through downtown was on a harder grade than the first pass.  But on the downhill part, with Half-Marathoners zooming by to their finish, I noticed the blonde girl had caught up to me again.  WTF?  I used the downhill to open up some distance between me and her and hopefully get her off my tail for good.

At Mile Marker 13 I must have been too distracted to mark the mile on my watch: I was trying to outrun this blonde girl that I couldn't shake and then I saw Wifey at the base of the hill, camera at the ready.  It was the first time I saw her on the course (but not the first time she saw me), I lit up but avoided skipping and jumping as I did during the NYCM--Delaware was a classier operation.

The course separated from the Half-Marathoners as they turned for the final 50m of their race.  Checking out the finishing chute I wasn't too thrilled: in the last 200m of the the race you make two 90 degree turns, killing any kick you might have at the end.  I plowed forward--and almost plowed over some guy who wasn't paying attention--to the halfway mark and the start of the first loop of the second lap.